MDG5: Improve Maternal Health

When I was little, my mother used to brush my long brown hair before I’d go to school, sometimes pinning my locks back with barrettes that corresponded to the day of the week (hey, it was the 80s), and sometimes yanking and pulling them into a painfully executed French braid. When the boy I liked made fun of me or when I fell and scraped my leg/elbow/insert-body-part-here, my mother would hold me, hugging away my tears. When someone told me I wasn’t good enough, she would push me to prove them wrong. Throughout the years, she has been my biggest cheerleader, my partner-in-crime, the method to my madness, and really, one of my closest friends.

On Mother’s Day, we are reminded of why we need to celebrate our mothers every day. Because damn it, they’re special. And we are better people because of them.

But Mother’s Day should also remind us of the many who grow up without mothers. Today, the issue of maternal health continues to be one of the world’s most pressing problems. According to Every Mother Counts, an advocacy and mobilization campaign to increase education about maternal and child health, a woman dies every 90 seconds from pregnancy complications. 90% of those deaths are preventable. Pregnancy is the biggest killer of women between the ages of 15-19 in the developing world, with nearly 70,000 girls dying each year because their bodies are not ready for childbirth.

Although the numbers are especially dismal in sub-Saharan Africa, where 1 in 30 women is likely to die in childbirth, the statistics are also shocking in Pakistan. According to the 2006-7 Pakistani Demographic & Health Survey, 1 in 89 women in Pakistan will die of maternal causes during her lifetime. The highest rate of maternal death is in Balochistan, and the rate is nearly twice as high in rural areas as it is in Pakistan’s cities.

According to the Population Reference Bureau, while maternal mortality in Pakistan is still high,

The percentage of pregnant women receiving prenatal care and skilled medical care had been increasing, a positive indicator for mother’s health. The percentage of women receiving prenatal care from a skilled health provider (nurse, doctor, midwife, or “Lady Health Visitor”) rose from just 33 percent in 1996 to 61 percent in 2006-07.

However, noted PRB, less than two-fifths of babies are born with the assistance of a skilled medical provider. The UN Millennium Development Goal’s call for at least 90 percent of births attended by skilled health personnel by 2015 “seems unlikely in Pakistan.”

During the flood disaster last summer in Pakistan that affected millions of people, women and children were the most vulnerable, and many pregnant mothers were without access to health care. The UN Population Fund estimated that nearly 500,000 flood-affected women were pregnant, and of that number, 1,700 women would go into labor each day. According to the Population Fund, “More than 250 of them will experience complications requiring medical care.” Organizations like Naya Jeevan and SHINE Humanity worked diligently during this period to help full-term pregnant women deliver their babies safely, with Naya Jeevan instituting a Safe Delivery Initiative and SHINE Humanity offering sustainable solutions and resources, [see this Global Giving page]. But the need was so great, and many mothers were left without access to the care they needed.

I am not saying that these problems can be solved tomorrow. But child mortality and maternal health are two issues that are so pressing that they each merited their own UN Millennium Development Goal. These goals are intrinsically linked, much like a mother and her child. We should not only care about this issue because it’s largely preventable, but because many of us were lucky to grow up with our mothers to nurture and guide us, to raise us the way their mothers did. That’s why we should remember that every mother, not just our own, counts.

Below is my favorite video in honor of Mother’s Day – from Acumen Fund’s Search for the Obvious campaign: